“Mapping” Questions to Enrich Networks

May 7, 2015 4 Comments

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to facilitate some of Farm to Institution New England‘s (or FINE’s) Summit at UMass-Amherst. Specifically I was asked to offer a bit of thinking, a few prompts and guide conversation here and there around the potential of further developing the Farm to College network, as represented in the room that day by students, faculty, college administrators, community organizers, institutional procurement professionals, farmers, funders and others from the so-called “value chain.”

I told the story that has been passed on to me by Beth Tener about her work with the Barr Foundation around the Green and Healthy Buildings Network in Boston. This is a well documented example of the power of mapping and connecting agents in related but otherwise separate fields for mutual benefit and greater impact. We used this as a jumping off point at the Summit to encourage people to be more curious about existing and potential connectivity in the room.

As we invited people to consider their connections and close triangles throughout the day, I offered the following questions for reflection that I find useful when helping participants in networks become more aware and intentional regarding their potential:

Who is here and who is not here and how does that matter?

What do we know and what are we able to do with those here? In light of what we are trying to do, who else might we consider inviting? What might that make possible?

Who is connected to whom/has access to whom and who does not have access to whom and how does that matter?

Just because we are all in the room, does not mean we all feel comfortable with and connected to one another? Acknowledging this, what are the limitations of our current patterns of connection? What might new channels make possible?

What do we feel we are able/willing to share through existing connections and what are we not able/willing to share and how does this matter?

Even if we are connected robustly, there are important considerations of what flows through these connections and in what directions. What is flowing and between whom and what does that make possible? What might new flows among different participants in different directions make possible? This has important implications for equity.

Curious to hear if these questions are useful and if so how.


  • Anna Sims Bartel says:

    Thanks, Curtis, for this and your many other deeply useful pieces. I work in a field (higher education community engagement) marked by pronounced divisions in expertise, authority, and access, and yet with keen desires to set these aside for new learning, greater responsiveness and collaboration. But/and, that’s wicked hard. In this environment, our best instruments for change are inquiry and relationship, and these questions you offer strike me as ones that work best when asked in relationship. So, very helpful indeed. I also wanted to share two of my other favorite questions for raising up interconnection, offered me by Kirby Edmonds of the Dorothy Cotton Institute: “How are we implicated in the problems [our communities face]? And how are we implicated in their solutions?” I love the “we” as well as the invitation to see that we can be part of fixing the world if we are willing to see clearly our own embeddedness in what’s broken. Simple, useful truths.
    Thanks again,

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Thanks, Anna. I appreciate your addition of these questions, which raise up both interconnection and accountability. There is much in network building for me that has to do with making the invisible more visible. I should also add that the questions you share have an extra added dimension of meaningfulness to me as I met both Kirby Edmonds and Dorothy Cotton while living in Ithaca in the late 1990s. Talk about interconnections!



    • Anna Sims Bartel says:

      How lovely, Curtis! Well, come back and talk to us! Interesting things afoot at Cornell these days and much energy for transformation…
      All best,

      • Curtis Ogden says:

        Would love to! My mother lives in Cortland, and I’ve been talking to Jeff Piestrak at Cornell about some interesting food-related net work in that area. Will definitely visit this summer.


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